BROOKLYN - By Lenn Robbins
February is a crucially important month for the Brooklyn Nets, a month that could determine if they will be considered among the elite teams in the NBA.
By opening 2014 with 10 wins in 13 games, the Nets have lifted themselves back into the playoff picture. The road to higher achievement will not be easy, it rarely is.
For many members of the Nets, February holds a deeper meaning than opponents and records. February is Black History Month, a celebration of African-American culture than many of the Nets thought they’d never see.
“As an African American you should feel honored they’ve dedicated an entire month to your race,’’ said guard Jason Terry. “It is a time to reflect on all the great African Americans that have made an impact on our country. Going forward, it’s still what Martin Luther King stood for, and that’s equality for all.”
“We finally got a black president. That’s amazing. I never thought I’d see that in my lifetime and to go even further than that, my grandmother, she didn’t ever think she’d be alive to see a black president. When I got a phone call from her that Obama was nominated the first time, I started to get goose bumps.’’
In honor of Black History Month, Amtrak and the Brooklyn Nets are teaming up to honor community leaders with the 2014 Amtrak Pioneer Award. The award recognizes African Americans in the New York City area who, through resolve and perseverance, have positively impacted their communities.
This year’s recipients are Janine Hausif, CEO and Founder of Around the Way mobile App, Mark Anthony Jenkins, Founder and Chairman of the New York African-American Chamber of Commerce, and Ruth Lovelace, the boys basketball coach at Brooklyn’s Boys & Girls High School.
The award presentation will take place Monday night during the Nets game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Barclays Center.
“Black History Month is an important reminder of Brooklyn’s harmonious and diverse community,” said Nets star Joe Johnson, who was chosen as a reserve for the 2014 All Star team. “Brooklyn is home to 150 different ethnic groups and is the epitome of how far our country has come.’’
Black History Month evokes a lot thought and emotion. Just as no two people of any race or culture share the exact same thoughts and feelings, Black History Month holds different meaning for the Nets.
Kevin Garnett said he wants the month to be a celebration of all races and ethnicities that have struggled for rights.
Reggie Evans, who’s mother picked cotton in Alabama, said Black History Month puts a responsibility on him to educate his children, and his children’s children about the road to equality.
Shaun Livingston, who is biracial, hopes that the day will come when every person is accepted for who they are, without consideration of the shade of a person’s skin, their religious beliefs, or the fervor with which they practice that religion.
“I think of all the people in the past that went through so much to make things better for the future, and I’m a part of that future,’’ said Evans. “You know even a small thing like riding on the bus with everybody, not just with people of color, is important.’’
“I owe it to the people before me and the people that will come after me to remember and understand. It’s not just a month. It’s a message.’’
There was no Black History Month until 1976 when Gerald Ford, as part of the nation’s Bicentennial Celebration, spearheaded an effort to expand Negro History Week into Black History Month.
It was a significant moment in the Civil Rights movement, which many felt was abandoned after the Late 60’s. But as one member of the team said, the bitterness of slavery, the sting of not being able to vote, the daily injustice of inequality, remains a sore point that may never be completely salved.
“It would be the shortest month of the year,’’ one Nets player said of February being Black History Month.
It is not a slight.
Carter Woodson, the great author, historian and journalist who in 1912 became the second African American to receive his doctorate from Harvard, established Negro History Week in 1926 to honor the births of Abraham Lincoln, Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass, all of whom were born in February.
Students at Kent State University pushed to have the week expanded to a month in 1969. But the nation was still trying to come to grips with the seismic shift generated by the Civil Rights movement.
It would take seven more years before Black History Month was realized. The Nets hope there is more equality to be realized, in and out of the African American community.
“The main part for me, I’m biracial, so being able to be comfortable in your own skin, whatever that means to each individual, is important to me,’’ said Livingston. “Whether that means you have different beliefs, different color, different religion, whatever it may be, being comfortable to be yourself.’’
“I’m proud to be African American. I respect my history. And I hope we can all continue to grow as a society.’’
That growth will never continue if the past is forgotten. Evans said he would take his children to Memphis this summer and tour the National Civil Rights Museum.
“They’re getting of age where they’re asking questions,’’ said Evans. “So it’s good to give them an education so they know there are people, like their grandmother, my mom used to pick cotton.
She ‘s from Alabama and she used to pick cotton. I want my kids to know there was a time when no one would have thought there’d be a Black History Month.’’
There is no way of predicting what impact this month will have or what import it will hold for future generations. Garnett believes Black History Month can serve as a beacon that will lead to greater equality and understanding.
“I think it’s good to recognize anyone, to appreciate of strides of each culture,’’ said Garnett. “I think obviously Black History Month, you think of the Civil Rights movement. But every culture has gone through something to exist.’’
“I’m just happy to be able to say we have a month that we can call our own but more important, the bigger message is not just for black people. It’s for Mexicans, for Spanish, for all ethnicities.’’
“Any culture that’s been through obstacles – Italians, Jews. You look at each culture and there’ a history. It’s not a cute one. It’s always something of survival, something of struggle. I think that’s the reason why we have a month.
“And I hope everybody embraces the month in those terms. Not just as a Black History Month but as a cultural month, something every culture can appreciate.”